He had said it with a smile.
“W-wait a minute. Back up.”
“You… tore your own arm off? Did that... how did that feel?”
“About as great as you’d expect.”
Another flash of whitened teeth.
Soft clanging of metal debris shuffled beneath his feet, accompanying the thoughts as he recalled them. He had decided before the trek that he would omit the gorier details for their sake – and his own. He needn’t delve into what it felt like when deep-set wires snap from a body, battered, berated, beaten…
His hand rubbed the shoulder joint where flesh and bone ceased and metal began.
“Are you sure you want to do this? You could have told us the story at the base.”
He could tell his attempt at reassurance did little to quell their unease, catching the side-eyed exchange of worried glances between Vaughn and Sasha. Real subtle.
“Look, I’m fine Vaughn, alright? I just… I guess I’m curious what’s left of it now.”
Fiona didn’t want to come with. She had heard it all before, and for once believed what he had told her at face-value – a miracle, really. If it hadn’t been for Vaughn, for Sasha, the two people who searched for him when he was as good dead, he may not have owed this tired story to anyone anymore. But he did them.
A mountain of rusted rubble obscured the path before them. Twisted beams and broken plates and fractured pipes entwined into a gnarly metal maze. Vaughn, familiar with the terrain of wreckage, silently ventured ahead as Rhys and Sasha studied his movements and followed diligent behind.
“Careful, your arm.” Rhys extended out a gentle hand to shield the crude cast holding her arm to her chest.
“Damn watch,” muttered Sasha half-heartedly under her breath, leaning into him. “The engraving should have read: ‘Letting you down one last time.’”
“Well, to be fair, it did save your life.” Rhys chuckled at her stubborn scorn. Somehow nine million dollars and the gift of life still wouldn’t be enough to amend a betrayal in Sasha’s eyes.
“I don’t want to talk about it right now,” Sasha said, cautiously gripping her arm tighter as her foot slipped on the smooth incline of steel panels. “Go ahead with your story.”
“Right… well, after I separated with my arm I realized I could still see Jack. In my head, you know. He couldn’t strangle me anymore which was some small relief I suppose. He was just… making threats, fantasizing about my death, fun stuff to think about when you’re sitting there armless. I actually tried to stab him with a piece of glass… I don’t know why I thought that would work. You can’t stab a hologram.”
Leaning his back against one side of the rubble, Vaughn extended out a leg to push aside a stack of panels, creating a triangular tunnel for Sasha and Rhys to traverse through. Emerging from the other side, Rhys recognized this all now, the toppled digistructed cars and caved-in statue heads. They were close.
“How did you get rid of him?” Vaughn asked after letting the debris he held up tumble into the dust with a huff.
“Well, I figured… a hologram can’t be stabbed but… but I can.”
“What?” Sasha and Vaughn exclaimed in unison with upturned brows.
“Listen, it’s not as bad as that sounded. I just used the glass to cut out my port and… and then I used it to dig out my ECHOeye.”
“Okay, maybe that was as bad as that sounded.”
“Rhys, that port was a 4-inch hole in your brain connected to more than a foot of wire in your eye!” rushed Vaughn, always with a knack for numbers.
“Yeah, that part wasn’t so fun,” Rhys admitted, unknowingly grazing the port on his temple with a tentative finger. “I had to pull out the wire through my eye. Jack was actually on his knees begging me not to.”
To his surprise, a hand brought down his wandering fingers and held them by his side.
“But you had to.” Sasha’s voice and grip were so firm, so assured – another reason she was everything he was not.
Skeletons in Hyperion uniform awaited them by the side of their path. Rhys’ eyes wavered to the sky, to the ground, to Vaughn, to Sasha, everywhere but to the bodies sprawled in the dust.
“That’s what I keep telling myself.”
The tall shattered glass windows of Jack’s office towered over the wreckage like a beacon. Feeling fled from Rhys’ body as his silver hand pointed at the horizon. “It’s over there.”
Sasha’s hand squeezed tighter, pulling him from numbness. He knew what it meant. Another ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ that he would deny before persisting forward.
“Let’s keep going.”
Time had allowed freshly fire-torn wreckage to turn slightly sand-weathered ruins. Featured at the epicenter was an impaled and limp Hyperion YellowTM cyber arm, a hanging decoration stupidly sticking out against the landscape.
Vaughn shook his head. “Wow you… really weren’t kidding about the arm thing.”
“I know, can you believe it? I actually thought yellow looked good on me. Losing it was the best thing I ever did, though Fiona would probably tell you it was the tie.” Rhys approached the arm, poking at it with his new one. “Atlas Silver* is much more my color.”
“Yeah, but I mean… Rhys, your arm – “
“Looks great in Atlas Silver*.” Sasha hurriedly rushed to finish Vaughn’s sentence. “Trust me.”
“Well, you are the Atlas Silver* expert around here.” Oblivious to the exchange, Rhys turned to face Jack’s partially ransacked cabinet. “Loader Bot already called Dibbs on the Conference Call, but there was some other interesting stuff Jack had in his trophy case, if you wanted to peruse.”
“Don’t mind if I do!”
Sasha wasted little time examining every scrap of distinguishable metal from the dusty shelves. Vaughn nudged at Rhys’ arm, motioning him further from her earshot. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Yeah, of course. What’s up?”
“Remember the last time we talked alone, back at that biodome while you were trying to find us a way in?”
Rhys combed his hair through his fingers. “Oh yeah, and you brought up something about a party and we bro-hugged it out. How could I forget?”
“Right, anyways I told you how great you were at playing it cool through everything. That’s what you’ve always told me to do, ‘play it cool’, and – and to be honest that’s how I think I’ve survived as long as I have down here. You don’t become a leader of former Hyperion refugees and not play it cool. I think you’re still great at it, new Atlas President and all.”
“Aw, well thanks Vaughn, I apprec—“
“But I think you should stop.”
The conviction in his statement cut the wind from Rhys’ lungs.
“W-what do you mean stop?”
Vaughn rested his hands on his hips, pondering a moment. “Why did you want to bring us here?”
“You can’t answer a question with a question.”
“Come on! You’ve been ‘playing it cool’ this whole time, we can tell. Doesn’t it bother you even a little bit to see your arm just like… dangling… over there, and…. it’s really disarming.”
“The past is in the past, Vaughn. Atlas is a fresh start. Yeah, I mean… I’ll remember it, it happened, but it doesn’t define me, alright?”
Vaughn’s blue eyes pierced into him, indignant still. “Okay, fine. But why come back here again?”
“I – I don’t…” His thoughts were suddenly jumbled, static.
“RHYS! How do I look?”
He could not have been happier at the sound of the excited voice from the other side of the office.
“Sasha! You look—“
Great, awesome, amazing, pretty, beautiful, goddamn gorgeous; all words he had intended to say. Not the ones he said, however.
“-- not good! Take that off!”
“Hey! Fiona was the only one who got the cool gun, now she’s the only one that gets the cool hat?” Sasha pulled the plum velvet cowboy hat down even tighter around the volume of her hair, clearly to spite him. “I don’t care, I’m keeping it!”
Rhys cringed at the sight. “Okay, but that hat belonged to Handsome Jack’s girlfriend.”
“Oh ew.” Sasha never swiped something off so quickly. “I’ll have to wash it.”
“You’re still keeping it?”
“I dunno. I feel like it suits me.”
“Well, maybe you should keep looking. Anything else over there?”
Rhys took a step towards her.
He was halted by the sound of shattered glass. Lifting up his boot, he recognized the small fractured frame, Hyperion YellowTM, and a picture of a little girl trapped inside.
“Who’s that?” asked Vaughn, watching as Rhys picked it up to inspect it.
“Jack’s daughter, I guess. Kinda told me about her when we were in his office.”
“I didn’t even know he had a daughter.” Vaughn wiggled the loose picture from the frame, holding it up closer to his de-spectacled face. Sasha soon joined his side.
Rhys shrugged. “Neither did I, he didn’t like anyone knowing about her. I think he called her his ‘Angel.’”
“Do you know where she is? Did she go down with Helios?”
“No she… she was already dead. Jack found out about it in the Helios database. She, uh, killed herself, apparently.”
“Aw,” Vaughn could finally focus his sight on the sunny freckles and smiling blue eyes. “That’s sad. She seemed sort of happy here.”
“Yeah, I thought so too,” Rhys conceded, staring down at the empty frame in his hand. Almost empty.
Engraved center in the frame backing was a rectangular shape, smooth and shined and untouched by gritty Pandoran dust. Inside the shaped outline were etched letters, nearly translucent, the near-white lavender font only visible when the angle of the light had glanced upon it. Rhys rotated the frame left and right under the bright sun, eventually piecing the word HALO enclosed in a wide oval. With his natural hand, he wedged a fingernail between the rectangular engraving, prying it out of the frame. The smooth shape gave, releasing from its cut-out sheath.
“What’s that?” Sasha asked, as Rhys dropped the frame to examine the thin dark silver brick.
“No Idea. Looks like a… a drive or something. But I don’t see how to enter it anywhere.”
Vaughn scratched at his beard. “Bring it back to Helios, maybe you can find out what it is in what’s left of the database.”
“Good idea, Vaughn.” Rhys pocketed his discovery, just before noticing the sword that was equipped on Sasha’s back. “What’s that?”
“… Okay. I thought guns were more your speed.”
Sasha pulled the sword from the sheath and waved it wildly in the air. “Oh definitely, but I thought it was going to be fun to show people. Maybe it’s a collector’s item, who knows?”
“Good point. Let’s grab anything else we need and go.”
“Not just yet,” Sasha shook her head, “you never told us how your story ended.”
Rhys wringed his hand in his robotic one. “Oh, yeah. Well, uh, not much more to it really. After I ripped out my cybernetics I crushed the ECHOeye… didn’t want Jack to get out again. Then I passed out here a while, not sure how long exactly. Eventually I came to and took the rights to Atlas from Jack’s trophy case. I wanted a fresh start. I found my way back to the biodome and began patching myself up and rebuilding Atlas. Just recently I was trying to make amends with you and Fiona, you know, over the whole leaving-me-on-Helios misunderstanding.”
“We didn’t mean to leave y-“
“I know that now. Loader bot kidnapped us but was in, like… a really weird disguise.”
“Like, the weirdest,” Vaughn interjected.
“Thanks Vaughn, yes, like the weirdest. Anyways he made us talk about how we found Gortys. Really cleared some things up, I think.” He folded his arms against his chest. “And then you know the rest.”
“I’m… I’m sorry we didn’t find you earlier.” Sasha adjusted her cast, wincing at the pain. “I can’t even imagine how you felt after all that.”
Vaughn raised his hand. “Me too. The Children of Helios would have been more than happy to help you out.”
“Yeah that… T-that still makes me a little uncomfortable.” Rhys turned his back to the office, resting his eyes on the Hyperion bodies amongst the litter of rubble, then to the moon. With the sun setting and painting the sky in a dusty bronze, the view of Elpis and its craters had never glowed brighter. Maybe it had. No one would have been able to tell if it had still been obstructed by that towering space station.
“Let’s get back to Helios.”
“Wait, Rhys, what do you think I should I do with this?” Vaughn still clung to the image of Jack’s little girl in his hands.
“It was Jack’s. Leave it here.” Rhys continued down the office steps, not about to wait up on them.
Vaughn reluctantly opened his hand to let the wind take it. The picture swayed briefly in the breeze as he left, finally coming to rest in the sand beneath an impaled Hyperion YellowTM arm.